What Kind of Camera Is Used for That Cinematic Look?

Are you looking for that cinematic look and are intuitive enough to know recording something on an iPhone or prosumer camera won’t get the job done? I started asking myself the same questions whenever I made my first short film. It seemed like many filmmakers I talked to didn’t know how to answer my question or thought it wasn’t a good question, to begin with.

Cinematic looks are achieved with a certain type of camera and lens, but there are more factors that go into that look seen in the movies. Lighting, composition, locations and post-production work such as color correction and color grading all get these films to their final form.

The answer to what kind of cameras are used is pretty simple. What’s seen in Hollywood films, whenever digital cinema cameras are used, are shot mostly on a camera by the brand name Arri. Arri has a few different models that are popular. The ones that aren’t shot using an Arri are shot on a Red. If it’s not either of those then it may have been a less popular digital cinema camera or shot on actual film. There are different types of camera sensors too. A full frame sensor such as whats found on a Red or Arri, Super 35mm such as a Canon C100 sensor or APS-C for less expensive DSLR cameras. Then there is the resolution which is somewhere between 8K and 4K for most new cinema cameras out today and then there is always the older format HD, also found on a Canon C100. Also whenever considering the resolution, think about codecs, which is the file format the video files are recorded to. RAW gives the colorist the best files to work with in post. It’s the least compressed file and takes up a lot of memory. Then there are more compressed formats that take up less storage but have their limits in post-production.

Cinema cameras come with a mount to attach different types of lenses. There are different types of lens mounts and PL is popular on higher-end cameras, anything over about $30,000 but they can be found on many types of cinema cameras. Then there are different lenses and they can either be made for photography or cinema cameras. The lenses made for cinema are almost always more expensive. Different brands and makes of lenses give different looks. That’s where a valuable cinematographer can come in handy. They work on a lot of different projects and for the most part, know what looks like what and can help select a camera and lenses right for the project. Lenses can either be a zoom or a prime lens. A prime lens has a fixed focal length and gives a certain shot size at a certain distance, among other characteristics. The baseline focal length is called a normal lens and that’s at 50mm. Below that, such as a 35mm lens, is called a wide-angle lens. Above that is called a telephoto lens and that could be something like a 75mm or larger.

B&H Photo has a great website for exploring different types of cameras and lenses. Go check out what they have to offer and sort through price and brands. It’s fun to see what’s out there!

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